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Levy's convicted friend got $85,000 in county work

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy (April 12, 2010)

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy (April 12, 2010) Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

A company associated with a longtime friend of County Executive Steve Levy got more than $85,000 in county title work, on Levy's recommendation, despite his federal tax evasion conviction, loss of his law license for more than a year, and his being cited for "unconscionable trade practices" by the county's consumer affairs officials.

The friend, Ethan Ellner, also recently admitted to involvement in an $82 million mortgage fraud in which former county Legis. George Guldi and several others also were charged.

"I tried to give a guy a second chance in life, and no good deed goes unpunished," Levy said.

Just last week, Levy said he played no role in doling out county title business.

Last March, Ellner was arrested and his company closed after he was indicted on a charge of his role in the mortgage fraud that involved more than 50 East End properties. The company has not been accused of wrongdoing.

Ellner pleaded guilty in December to grand larceny, scheme to defraud and conspiracy to commit fraud. He is awaiting sentencing.

Levy said he had recommended that Ellner, of Plainview, be hired in 2005 because he was impressed by Ellner's work. Business records most recently show Ellner as president of a company called Suburban Abstract. Prior to 2007, records are unclear as to the position he held at the company.

He was the owner of the company from 2007 to 2009, according to the Suffolk District Attorney's office. Records show the county began awarding title work to Suburban Abstract in 2005, a year after Levy took office. Suburban was paid a total of $85,714 by the county through early 2009, when Ellner was arrested in connection with the mortgage fraud case.

Levy said he usually does not recommend title companies, but did so for Suburban Abstract. "I know this firm because they did work for me, and it was always spotless."

County Attorney Christine Malafi, who selects the title companies, said a company disclosure form required of all vendors and filed with the county did not list Ethan Ellner as a principal, but lists his mother, Gladys Ellner, as a partner. Neither of the Ellners returned a call Monday.

Levy, however, said he knew of Ellner's connection to Suburban. "I knew it. Christine did not," he said Monday.

Under county law, Ellner's prior felony conviction did not disqualify the company from getting county title work.

Ellner, 50, and Levy, also 50, met at St. John's University Law School, and Levy was an usher at Ellner's wedding, according to Ellner's ex-wife, Stacy. Ellner also rented an apartment from Levy at Levy's Holbrook home while the Ellners were getting divorced, Levy said.

The friendship endured despite Ellner's troubled history.

In February 1992, while Levy was a county legislator, a Suffolk hearing officer found Ellner had engaged in "unconscionable trade practices" in connection with a mortgage fraud in Medford. The hearing officer fined Ellner the maximum allowed under law, $5,000, according to county Consumer Affairs Commissioner Denis McElligott. Later that year, Ellner was arrested and charged with tax evasion.

While that case was pending, Levy asked Ellner to represent his mother, Marie, in a lawsuit against the Internal Revenue Service, Levy said.

In October 1997, Ellner pleaded guilty to tax evasion. He was sentenced to one month in prison and three years' supervised release and got a $5,000 fine, according to court records.

In March 1999, the state Appellate Division suspended Ellner's law license because of the tax evasion case. He was reinstated to the bar in November 2001, court records show.

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